I, Robot

I, Robot

Retro Coin Op Synopsis

Video games entered a brave new world in 1983. It was a world of polygons, evil eyes and George Orwell references, and nobody quite knew what to make of it. I, Robot was, in fact, a complete failure for Atari, but it was one of the most impressive failures in arcade history.

The revolution began with the look. Designed by Dave Theurer (of Tempest fame), I, Robot was the first arcade game with 3-D polygon graphics, allowing players to explore a fully-dimensional world. With a button on the side of the control panel, you could change the game’s view, which actually became an integral part of the game. Different views gave different point levels, with the most points being awarded for tackling the tricky head-on view.

In the game, you controlled Interface Robot #1984, a rebellious droid out to take on Big Brother and his Evil Eyes. On each of the game’s 26 playfields, an Evil Eye watched, separated from your plucky 'bot by a large void. The only way to hop that great divide for a shot at the Eye itself was to move across all the red squares on the playfield, changing them to blue.

But the Eye was powerful, and it wasn’t too keen on being destroyed. If your character tried to jump (a frequent necessity on the gap-filled levels) while the Eye was red, it would fire a destructive blast that cost you a life. In addition, Big Brother sent his minions against you, including birds, balls, buzzsaws, sharks and more.

After each Eye was destroyed, the robot moved into a space wave, where you had to avoid or shoot a variety of ships and other objects flying toward you. Upon landing, another playfield awaited, along with another Eye and an all-new challenge. After every third field, the robot entered a red pyramid, trying to gab as many jewels as he could without being destroyed.

Once all 26 playfields were conquered, the game began again on the first, but with several new surprises and challenges. Possibly the trickiest of these was the “viewer killer,” a homing missile which rocketed straight toward you. Not you, the robot, but you, the viewer. The only way to avoid its deadly blast was to change your view, sliding out of its path.

It may not sound overly complex in retrospect, but at the time, I, Robot was baffling to most. Fleshed-out 3-D environments were unheard of in 1983, and the game was difficult to master for the uninitiated. Most didn’t even try. The game also featured an “ungame” drawing program, titled “Doodle City,” which showed off I, Robot’s graphical capabilities without all the stress of a regular game.

The “ungame” feature didn’t win too many converts, and I, Robot soon fizzled out. Only 1,000 machines were produced, and even those were a tough sell. Like Computer Space twelve years earlier, I, Robot had the unfortunate luck of being just a bit ahead of its time. Polygon graphics and 3-D worlds eventually came to dominate the video game landscape, but I, Robot never got to taste the fruits of its pioneering labors.

Arcade Machine Release History

1985 - I, Robot

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